The effect of social and causal information on children's imitation
Hallinan, Elizabeth Verity
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Current theories regarding imitation tend to emphasize either its role as a mechanism for learning about objects without resorting to trial and error, or its role as a means by which we understand the mental states of others. Few studies have attempted to reconcile these two approaches by systematically investigating what information children learn from imitating others. In this thesis, I examined the relative influence of both physical and social information on children’s imitation in an attempt to bridge these two approaches. In Study 1, children used their causal knowledge to ignore a physically irrelevant action done by an adult demonstrator. In Studies 2 and 3, children imitated the irrelevant action more often when information was provided that multiple individuals performed that action and when a single individual performed that action consistently. These findings suggest the possibility that shared practices play an influential role in imitation, above and beyond learning about the physical functioning of an object.